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Artefacts as meme vehicles?

Artefacts as meme vehicles?

An artifact is a physical entity, a product of an agent who developed an illusion of being a subject. As such, an artifact is also a vehicle that drives another agent to have an illusion of being a subject.

If we take memes, as defined by Robert Aunger (Aunger 2002), existing only in brains, then it follows that brains are memes’ necessary substrate. In this sense, an artifact is a product of a “meme being” that can fire memes and meme complexes in brains.

If we accept the possibility that memes exist as entities outside brains, then artifacts become meme vehicles. Notations, ceramics, chairs, computers, …, become vehicles of memes and agents capable of catalyzing memes in brains. This second option leads to platonism/dualism.

This is the right place to put internet memes where they belong: they are not memes but artifacts as any other cultural artifacts as entities whose ontology rests on memes. One should thus understand the vast literature on internet memes, for instance, all essays in Post Memes: Seizing the Memes of Production  (Bown and Bristow 2019), as an investigation of artifacts, archaeology of artifacts, and not a study of memes.

However, we should also consider the third option: memes exist outside brains but are simultaneously actualized only about brains. This option “allows” some objectivity that exists outside brains but simultaneously makes that objectivity accessible for us only “with a little help of memes”.

I must admit that this last option is Kantian. But why not? The difference between the second and third options is almost negligible. Nevertheless, this “almost” makes a huge difference, for it connects brains to objectivity outside brains and simultaneously allows evolution to play its role. We as humans are meme’s masters but depend on artifacts that we have no power over, even as we created. A poem is a memetic entity created by a poet. However, a poem becomes an artifact in the moment of creation. At that very moment, a poem becomes a meme vehicle even for the poet who created it. He has similar unprivileged access to that poem as any other reader.

Memes help us to give a boost both to Kant and to evolution.


Aunger, Robert. 2002. The Electric Meme: A New Theory of How We Think. New York: Free Press.

Bown, Alfie, and Dan Bristow, eds. 2019. Post Memes: Seizing the Memes of Production. Punctum Books.

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